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Buffalo Bills go run-heavy when playing with big leads

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Nathaniel Hackett should not be exempt from criticism for his play-calling, but Buffalo Bills fans shouldn't be surprised at the team's run-heavy game plan with a big lead in New Jersey, either.

Al Bello

Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has been under fire for, well, all 24 games of his career as the team's play-caller, when you get right down to it. And it's a bit weird that criticism of Hackett reached a fever pitch in the immediate aftermath of a 43-point outing (and a 20-point road blowout win over a division rival), but hey, it's the Internet age we're living in, after all.

I'm not here to exonerate Hackett of anything, because for an offense that has been as inconsistent as Buffalo's during their 5-3 start, everything should be examined closely. Hackett is part of that picture, and there have been enough strange play-calling moments with the Bills in the last year-plus that criticism is warranted (though the calls for his firing are, quite frankly, ridiculous; no 5-3 team with flaws in critical areas like the quarterback and the line should scapegoat the play-caller).

Here's the thing about the Bills' second-half play calling against the New York Jets this past Sunday, though: it fell right in line with the Bills' typical modus operandi when they're salting away a lead. They have built double-digit leads, and then possessed the ball with that lead, in three separate games this season, and with that lead in hand reverted to remarkably similar run-pass patterns in an attempt to close out the game.

Week Bills lead Pre-lead ratio Post-lead ratio Final score
1 Bills 17, Bears 7 45.8% run (13 passes, 11 runs) 54.8% run (14 passes, 17 runs) Bills 23, Bears 20
2 Bills 16, Dolphins 3 44.4% run (20 passes, 16 runs) 68.2% run (7 passes, 15 runs) Bills 29, Dolphins 10
8 Bills 24, Jets 7 44.0% run (14 passes, 11 runs) 70.4% run (8 passes, 19 runs) Bills 43, Jets 23

Note that the Week 1 run-pass disparity might have been skewed far more heavily toward the ground game had Chicago not forced overtime in that contest.

The bottom line here is that it is a philosophy of the Bills' coaching staff to go run-heavy (read, to some: ultra-conservative) when they have a lead. If you're of the mind that that's wrong, then take your criticism all the way to the top: Doug Marrone is the guy making the call to run the ball with leads. Hackett might do the same thing with final say on the matter, but functionally, that's an order that comes from above.

A more appropriate criticism from Sunday, and one that has been tied up into a "run, run, pass" battle cry of sorts that has already grown tiring despite its fairness, is that the Bills were a bit too predictable in how they went run-heavy, and when they were trying to move the sticks through the air with their lead. Which, okay, that's open season; have at it. (It's equally fair to point out that of the Bills' five run-run-pass possessions in the second half, they scored on four of them for 19 points, including Kyle Orton touchdown passes to Scott Chandler and Sammy Watkins.)

No one, however, should have been surprised that the Bills started pounding the rock early and often once their lead in New Jersey was built; that has always been how they've rolled under Marrone.